Nonprofit Helps Students Boost Test Scores, Confidence Through Free Private Tutoring

Townline Elementary School fourth-grader Kadyn Toris has made huge gains in reading since he began receiving private tutoring at Streams of Hope.

Since second grade, Kadyn has attended a total of six 12-week sessions inside the food pantry at the faith-based, non-profit organization at 280 60th St. SE. His father makes sure he gets there every week. Kadyn usually walks in with a smile on his face to meet with his tutor.

Located next to Townline Elementary, Streams of Hope was founded eight years ago to serve students at the school, which enrolls many low-income students. It has since expanded to serve several other Kentwood Public Schools elementary buildings and other nearby schools.

Kadyn said reading better is helping him improve in every subject at school. He also comes for math tutoring.

“Last year I made the honor roll,” he said, referring to the Streams of Hope list of star students. “I felt like I was catching up with the other kids. I like that I can come here and learn, say ‘hi’ to everyone I know, and I make friends.”

His confidence also has received a big boost.

“I feel like I can really read,” Kadyn said. “I can read a lot of books now.”Townline Elementary School fourth-grade students Andrew Rangel-Zavala and Gabriel Toussaint have worked together at tutoring for two years

Creating a Quality Program

Streams of Hope Program Coordinator Sue Harkema considered how to bring a tutoring program on board in 2012, when an anonymous donor stepped forward to fund a pilot program. She had two non-negotiable requirements: Tutors would have to be certified teachers and students would get individualized attention, with a two-to-one student-to-teacher ratio.

“We wanted it to be a remedial reading program, where teachers had experience working with students and really seeing what the root of their reading issues are, so they become more successful readers,” Harkema said.

The reading program involves three 50-minute sessions of reading on Monday evenings. Six tutors work with 30 second- to fifth-grade students, up from 12 two years ago. Students drop in for the session most convenient for them, meeting in offices in the pantry.

Students now come from Kentwood elementary buildings including Townline, Southwood, Glenwood, Bowen, Explorer and Endeavor, as well as Cross Creek Charter Academy and The Potter’s House Christian School.

Math tutoring was added this fall thanks to more grants and donations. Three tutors serve 12 students on Wednesday evenings, and Harkema hopes to expand the service to 30. Some students, like Kadyn, come for both math and reading, and several have signed up for every session.

“We have some students that have come since we started, and, honestly they are ready to exit the program, but they just love coming here,” Harkema said.

Meeting a Neighborhood Need

While tutors are paid through donations and grants, the program is free to parents. The neighborhood around Streams of Hope has a high level of poverty, with the food pantry serving 500 families a month. Hiring a private tutor costs about $50 per hour, an amount out of reach for many families.

“Our goal is to help those (for whom) private tutoring would otherwise be cost prohibitive,” Harkema said. “To be able to offer this to students is huge.”

Parents are required to discuss students’ progress at the end of each session and
attend a workshop to help learn how to best work with their children. “Our goal isn’t just to put a Band-Aid on a student’s problem. We really want to empower parents, to give them the tools they need to help their child.”

Progress is tracked by test scores, including the Scholastic Reading Inventory assessment. Most students progress at least one grade level after a 12-week session.

“There’s something magical that happens with tutoring,” said Harkema, a private tutor for 16 years. “It does something for the student’s confidence and self-esteem. The students want to come back for more because they feel successful when they’re here. If we can give them a glimpse of what success is like, it gives them the drive to want to succeed more and give them that drive they need.”

Glenwood Principal Jenny Love said she’s seen firsthand the difference tutoring is making.

“Our parents are very thankful for it,” Love said. “It’s hard to get that extra support outside of school for families that don’t have the extra resources.”

Third-grade student Daniel Rangel-Zavala works with tutor Joy Howard, who also is a paraprofessional for Kelloggsville Public SchoolsStreams of Hope facilities include a community center with a gymnasium for after-school programs, and the food pantry, which was built in 2012. Other programs include an after-school program for middle and high school students, a basketball program, and a chess club for teens. Volunteers are needed for a new middle and high school tutoring program from 4 to 5 p.m. Thursdays.

Townline fourth-grade students Andrew Rangel-Zavala and Gabriel Toussaint have worked together with their tutor for two years, cheering each other on at tutoring and at school. “I saw that I improved in my reading score,” said Andrew.

Added Gabriel, “Last time I took a test I was up 400 points.”

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. She has been covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network since 2013. Read Erin's full bio

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